LAKE BLACKSHEAR, GA. — THEY shoveled, scraped, and sorted. They ripped up carpets, tore down wall boards and insulation, and hauled out trash and debris in the hot Georgia sun.
About 1,000 volunteers from all over metropolitan Atlanta boarded buses and spent July 16 and 17 helping the victims of Georgia's greatest natural disaster. More volunteers will be heading south July 23 and 24.
The massive cleanup effort, initiated by an Atlanta television station and coordinated by the Red Cross, was just part of the overall effort to provide food, clothes, and other assistance to residents of central and southern Georgia, who are only now able to assess the damage as waters recede.
About 1 of every 4 state residents has been or will be affected by the flood, according to Georgia Gov. Zell Miller (D).
About 15,000 square miles of land from Atlanta to the southwestern tip of the state and into the Florida panhandle were affected by flooding brought about by rains from Tropical Storm Alberto in early July. Some roads and bridges remain closed.
Surging waters from the Flint and Ocmulgee Rivers and dozens of smaller creeks left 30 people dead and thousands homeless.
Agricultural losses in Georgia, particularly for the state's peanut crop, may top $100 million, says Georgia's agriculture commissioner, Tommy Irwin.
President Clinton toured flood-affected areas near Albany, Ga., on July 13, accompanied by several Cabinet officials. He pledged $65 million in federal flood aid, the bulk of which would go to residents in Georgia.
Across the state, homeowners and volunteers began the traumatic cleanup effort, forced to wear heavy gloves and plastic masks to ward off the stench of mildew and decay. The Red Cross expects to spend more than $14 million in aid to flood victims in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.
``A lot of groups are collecting food and clothes,'' said Sheryl Gripper, director of community affairs at WXIA-TV, which publicized the event. ``We wanted to bring in volunteers to go into people's homes and help clean up the mess so they can start to make repairs.''
April Hopson, a volunteer and special events coordinator in Atlanta, said: ``I can't afford to send a check, but I can afford to give my time.''
In Sumter County, one of the state's hardest-hit areas, torrential rains dumped 21 inches of water in 24 hours. Fifteen people died in flash floods as water broke through the Blackshear Dam and damaged homes beyond repair. Few families have any kind of flood insurance because the area had never been identified as a flood plain. Towns along Lake Blackshear still don't have drinking water, electricity, or phone service.
Homeowners Stan and Linda Wooten of Pecan Slough, Ga., had just taken out a $60,000 loan on an addition to their cinderblock home. But when muddy waters reached their roof line, they lost everything except some clothes, a bed, and personal papers.
``A week ago we were painting and spackling,'' said Linda Wooten. ``Now we have to tear everything down and disinfect what's left.''
Although an assessor from the Federal Emergency Management Agency told the Wootens their house was a complete loss, Stan Wooten says, ``I'm going to try to get some kind of a loan. I don't want to let [the house] go. I've put too much sweat into it.''
Georgia State Trooper Raymond Davis, one of the scores of law-enforcement officers brought into the area to protect people and property, said, ``Just about everything's been destroyed.
Many of those homes will just be bulldozed under and folks will have to start over.''
Bob Zeigenhain says he and his wife, Karen, probably won't qualify for disaster aid since they both work, but he vows to rebuild. ``We'll rebuild one board at a time if we have to. We'll skip birthdays and anniversaries for a while, but we'll rebuild.''
When volunteers prepared to leave, having removed the Zeigenhains' ruined, brand-new washer and dryer and shoveled away the remains of their kitchen linoleum, Karen Zeigenhain said, ``We'll never forget the flood of '94. You have been a godsend.''
``Come back and see us next year when everything's fixed up,'' Mr. Zeigenhain added.